Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet

Adventures of a female sofer learning to heal the world by doing Holy Work...writing a Sefer Torah

נחזיר את השכינה למקומה בצייון ובתבל כלה

"Let us restore the Divine In-Dwelling to Her Place in Zion & infuse Her spirit throughout the whole inhabited world."

So wherever we are, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence.

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Location: Vancouver/London, British Columbia/UK, Canada

SCRIBAL EVANGELIST As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work. I am also currently researching the foundation of a lost tradtion of women practicing this holy craft. For more on the services I provide, please see; Sofrut Nation. I am now available to engage with students, male or female, wishing to enter into the preliminary stage of learning sofrut. You are welcome to join me on this path. "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue." Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004



I'm taking the time now to catch up on some well-deserved blogging:

>We learn that base metals like iron must never come into contact with the qlaf
>(parchment) or the d'yo (ink) used to make a Sefer Torah, because these metals
>are symbolic of violence & war. This is why Ashkenazim write with a quill &
>Mizrachim use a reed. This is why we scrape our errors away with a shard of
>glass, score our lines with a rose thorn, & sew the sheets together with
>gold-plated needles.

Can we not redeem these materials in G*d's work and name?

Posted by Poor Mad Peter to Netivat Sofrut at 6/26/2004 05:12:03 AM

Poor Mad Peter askes an excellent question. I gave it much thought, off & on, over some time. I think the problem isn't with these materials. Some materials have problems - for example, as the "Torah shall be in our mouths", we can only use the skin of a kosher animal to write on, the feather of a kosher bird (if you're Ashkenazi, as I am) to write with, & the dyo can only contain water-soluable & edible ingredients. But what wrong have we ever committed with parchment or feathers? Iron, on the other hand, bronze, tin...we've used these materials & indeed still do, to torture & to murder. We - humanity - are using these materials for evil instead of good (see "swords into ploughshares"), so I don't think it's the materials which need redemption, as they are only tools. I think WE are the ones who need redemption. & until we can learn to raise the holy sparks contained in all physicality to perform sacred work & not base offenses, then we must separate & clearly divide certain things for the sake of our own minds, emotions & psyches. Then perhaps we'll have a chance to evolve. In Hebrew, separation, for an intended holy purpose, equals sanctity. Think about that. When G@d is ONE, separation=sanctity.
Besides, the Sefer Torah is a balanced document as it is. There is much violence, war, rape, fear in it, but also love, kindness, bravery, justice. Just as we learn that the white "negative" space of the qlaf is as important as the black lettering, so we must give thime & space & attention to the physical repeating of this Torah & everything within it without unbalancing it.

We *must* learn to change our individual & collective consciousnesses!...this is necessary to actualize Olam HaBa & make it Olam HaZeh.

Thursday, June 10, 2004



I'm learning about prayer with R' Ross in the Shulchan Arukh & I'm still not putting it into practice. I'm gathering strength, tho'. When my Muslim friend Kyla (yes, the one I bought the peace plate for in Jerusalem) talks about stumbling out of bed at 3 or whatever & bumbling through her prayer, I know how she feels...but I don't like being in that state when I daven, so depending on how disoriented I feel when I wake up, I don't daven right away. But then I wonder if I should just do it anyway, partly because it is, in fact, my own ideal, partly because I think it actually may be law somewhere, but also because there's something egoless about being on autopilot. So maybe being half asleep would make me apprpriately egoless & therefore hunble in connecting with G@d...but then maybe my kavanah will be low. But then my kavanah can certainly be low when I'm fully awake as well - *that's* an ego issue

Joel thinks kavannah is really *the* central issue in prayer. We can, and should, be aiming to connect with the Divine at all times and in all activities. & I agree with him. The Mishneh Brurah talks about keeping G@d before you at all times. It was fascinating!

Basically it said that we rush around & make preparations when we have the priviledge to meet a human king, so we should do at least the same for G@d, who is omnipresent & not a mere glorified human. That's why so many thoughts & so much advice around rising in the morning have been put to paper in Jewish tradition.

It even went on to talk about the Sh'viti'im people make & how we're not allowed to write G@d's 4-letter name on a piece of qlaf & keep it in our sidurim. People used to do this so they could increase their kavanah, & it sounds like a good idea, until the Mishneh Brurah went on to say that even tho' this is a nice idea, that these Sh'viti'im would fall out of people's sidurim & be destroyed in the street, thereby erasing G@d's name. So that's why in many shuls now there's a big Sh'viti in the shape of a menorah up at the bimah or the aron. That was the M"B's suggestion.

It occurred to me that since both qlaf & d'yo are made with the kavanah that they be used in sofrut & sanctified by a verbal declaration of said intention, that perhaps this is another reason to avoid such sacred "arts & crafts", as they're inappropriate to the material's potential.

So what the Mishneh Brurah suggested is that instead of using a physical device we maintain a constant state of meditation in which we "see" the Y-H-V-H before our eyes at all times. Because when people think they're alone, they behave very differently than when they are aware of the Presence.

So R' Ross interpreted this as a pair of glasses with Y-H-V-H printed on the lenses :) & you'll love this: when we learned that we should "wake the dawn like a lion", ie, get up when it's still dark & with great vigour daven shachrit as the sun rises - I said, "But we're not *Muslims*!"

& R' Ross said, "Well, yes - we *are*!"

I'm going to miss him!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004



"paradise is surrounded by what we dislike;
the fires of hell are surrounded by what we desire."
- from Mathnawi II, 1837

This has been a recurrent theme throughout my life. & not just mine. It's the human experience.
I recently sat in my garden with a Wise Woman friend, enjoying the mellow late afternoon summer sun & admiring how well my Jerusalem artichokes are growing. Joel & I *love* Jerusalem artichokes. As we chatted, she asked me if I had ever returned to fencing. I replied whistfully that I hadn't, but that I wanted to make time for it.
I had let it go after an unfortunate car accident 2 years ago had left me with serious full-body whiplash, but B"H nothing worse. I'd been stopped at an intersection, signalling to turn, when an uninsured drived rear-ended me at full speed. Just another nudge from G@d to remind me that I was not on my right derekh (path). I have noticed each time I have wandered from my destiny, even if I just stop reaching to it for a second, G@d smashes me with a car.
The first time was that morning in 1991 when my right hand was crushed by a car in a bike accident. The same hand which is now "bionic". The same hand which is now disabled. The same hand with which I write a Sefer Torah.
I used to compete in fencing. I left competition as I committed my life to mitzvot, which meant fencing tournaments on Shabbat with their electrical equipment had to be left behind. It saddened me, but I could still spar with other swordspeople. I fenced at UBC & at Mount Pleasant until the accident. But 2 years on, after all this physiotherapy, chiropractice care, pilates & massage, I feel ready.
SO, why fencing? Why the art of the foil? Why any kind of weaponry? Well, because of the Rumi quote above. My entire life I have found it necessary to be self sufficient, as only G@d can be trusted fully. To fight for what I knew I could attain, as the way has often been blocked. To defend myself, if necessary. But the sword is just a red herring. A means to an end. It's the sleight of hand meant to distract from the real purpose: that which is behind the eyes of us all - our will.
My whole life I engaged in swordplay, excelled at archery, scored high in hand gun target practice. & now what do I do? I write.
Instead of waving a big metal pointy thing around to execute my will, I wave around a feather to transcribe the word of G@d.
We learn that base metals like iron must never come into contact with the qlaf (parchment) or the d'yo (ink) used to make a Sefer Torah, because these metals are symbolic of violence & war. This is why Ashkenazim write with a quill & Mizrachim use a reed. This is why we scrape our errors away with a shard of glass, score our lines with a rose thorn, & sew the sheets together with gold-plated needles.
Perhaps instead of defending my heart from the outside world with a sword, I should turn inward & correct the errors to be found therein with a broken mirror.
Perhaps engaging in this process would truly prepare me to copy G@d's utterance.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004



The man whispered, "God, speak to me." A meadowlark sang.
But the man did not hear.
Then the man yelled, "God, speak to me." Thunder rolled across the sky.
But the man did not listen.     
The man looked around and said, "God, let me see you." The stars shined brightly.
But the man did not notice.
The man shouted, "God, show me a miracle." A life was born.
But the man did not know.
So the man cried out in despair, "Touch me God, and let me know you are here." Whereupon, God reached down and touched the man.
But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.

One of the lessons I have learned in this life is to not miss out on a blessing because it isn't packaged the way that I expect. G@d gives blessings when & how they are needed, whether we recognise that or not. We must take notice of the blessings around us as they are. I know this sounds cheesey, but it's true as well. It's so easy to cloud the precious gifts in our lives.
It reminds me that G@d not only created everything, but exists *in* everything. That when we say the Sh'ma twice each day, we are not only decalring the oneness of G@d, but that this unity actuallt means that THERE IS NOTHING ELSE BUT G@D. That what we experience as plurality is, in fact, the expression of G@d's unity.

As the Holy Liqutei Amarim-Tanya says, in Sha'ar HaYichud V'Emunah (Gate of Unity & Faith), "...even in completely inanimate matter, such as stones or earth or water, there is a soul & a spiritual life-force - that is, the enclosing of the "Letters of Speech" of the Ten Utterances [from Hava'ye, G@d] which gave life & existence to inanimate matter that it might arise out of the naught & nothingness which preceeded the Six Days of Creation."

Indeed, it is said that the entire Torah is a single utterence of The Holy One.

This is why G@d's most intimate name, Y-H-V-H, is literally the verb "to be" in Hebrew. G@d IS. Everything that is, IS because of the G@dspark within. Otherwise, it could not BE.

That's why one of G@d's many names is HaMaqom - The Place. The Omnipresent. Meaning the Here & Now. "Is-ness".

All is G@d.

Monday, June 07, 2004



I was spending time with a good friend a few weeks ago, who will be making aliyah (immigrating to Israel) soon. After a fine time at the bat mitzvah in our synagogue, Shaarey Tefilah, we went & hung out at another friend's in our little shtetl. It's so great to have so many Jews in the neighbourhood :) We talked & ate ice cream & joked around & it was really a fabulous Shabbat afternoon.

We all walked together up to the women's shiur being held at Rebbetzin Rosenblatt's home. I'm often so exhausted by my focus on the Sefer during the week that I don't often attend these gatherings, but I miss them. I miss learning Torah with other women. Women of every age & experience. Aside from meeting with R' Singer every week, I haven't made much time for learning anything outside of my constant review of sofrut. I used to make time to learn Torah - & not anything sofrut related - for at least an hour per day, but now this Sefer draws so much of my energy. Joel & I have promised to learn Torah between Mincha (afternoon prayers) & Ma'ariv (evening prayers) each day after we're marrried, so I'm very excited about that! It'll be so good to have him as a chevruta as well as my partner in life :)

So the shiur, the talk, was really good. There was a woman from out of town, renowned for her Torah knowledge, who spoke. It was really refreshing to get her perspective on keeping close to G@d. Afterwards it was really terrific to visit with so many women from all over Vancouver that I hardly see, because I'm either at my own shul or in Seattle for Shabbat. & there's always tasty treats!

Over the snack table a woman confronted me. I don't think she actually thought it was a confrontation, it's just her way. But every single interaction I've ever had with her (is that emphatic enough?) has felt to me like a thinly veiled challenge. Interesting, because I don't feel threatened by fights...
So as we munched over the food she phrased her question in the form of a statement, as she does. She told me that she'd been talking to another sofer who lives here in Vancouver & asked him what he thought of a woman writing a Sefer Torah. Now, he is a Vizhnitzer Chasid, I understand, so part of a very observant & deep tradition which I have much respect for. Apparently he answered her that from his understanding of the Halakhah, as long as a woman were to observe miqveh (ritual immersion) while writing a Sefer, that he really didn't see any problem with it. I thanked her for sharing their conversation with me.
"So as long as you're going to the Miqveh every day, it's fine." she repeated pointedly. This was her question-in-a-statement.
"I do visit the miqveh after my period to remove the tum'ah (ritual impurity) of nidah (menstrual separation) each month, but I don't go every day. Her eyebrow raised.
"The Halakhah as stated in "Liqutei Sifrei STaM" ("How to Write STaM Books", roughly) is that it is considered "nachon" - "right" or "correct" - to immerse in a miqveh every day, but it is not a requirement. For some sofrim this is the custom, but not for others. As my sofer who mentored me does not, then I do not. One must, however, bathe very thoroughly before sitting down to write if one does not immerse. Most of the sofrim I know follow this minhag (practice)."
She listened & seemed satisfied.

I actually already knew this. My very close friend Michal Mivasair had a similar conversation with him many months ago & shared the pleasing conclusion. She & I were both happily surprised that a sofer coming from his more traditional perspective was accepting of me as a colleague. Just goes to show - mustn't make assumptions about people. Just let them open up & show themselves to you.

I didn't tell her I already knew what he thought. I think it's really important to be present with people & sometimes that means to just be open to what's important to them. What she doesn't know is that I'm even careful to not touch the qlaf or any of my sofrut tools or materials while I'm in nidah (menstruating). This is the reason that a kosher Sefer Torah cannot take on any sort of tum'ah, even though all the materials which make it up can. Because each person who comes into contact with each item used in the creation of a Sefer Torah must not only be in a state of Taharah (ritual purity), but must make a verbal declaration focusing his (yes, he is always male) intention appropriately so he can manufacture the supplies. At each stage, the slaughter of the animal, the preparation of the qlaf (parchment), the mixing of the ink, the twisting of the gid...all the way up to the sofer, who also must perform this task with a body & heart as full of The Holy One as is possible for that particular person. Once this is accomplished, it doesn't matter what kind of impurity or uncleanness the Sefer contacts, it's elevated state remains intact.

Such is the painstaking process of building something precious that will last forever. Whether it is a baby or a marriage or the perpetuation of G@d's word, its creative process must be entered into with joy & awe & love.

Sunday, June 06, 2004



I was at a religious gathering recently, where I encountered a very interesting woman. She was Israeli, secular, & really a lot of fun to talk to. Then she asked me what I do for a living. "I'm currently writing a Sefer Torah", I answered.
"Oh, so what king of a Torah is *that*? You're just writing your own version, or what..?" she asked flippantly.
"No, actually I searched for a mentor for a very long time. Then I went to Yerushalayim & learned with him so I could become a soferet. I'm doing it exactly the same way that male sofrim do it."
Suspicion flooded her face. She looked at me sidelong as though she didn't know what to make of me, & then turned & began talking to another person about something else.

It's funny. I never really know how people are going to take me.
& however people classify me when we first meet, thery're generally wrong. For those who religion is an issue, some find me untouchably Orthodox, almost mythically religious. Others assume that I'm the exact opposite - completely unobservant & utterly disregarding of any of G@d's laws. For those who politics takes the place of G@d in their lives, I'm either assumed to be a right-wing Muslim hater because I lead a strict Jewish life, or seen as an angry champion of all things liberal supporting the overturning of Jewish Law.

I am neither.

I have no idea why people react to me in this manner. I guess people veneer me with their own stuff. Nothing I can do about that. & I'm probably expecting too much. Most people don't cultivate the consciouaness of Ticht Nat Hahn or pay attention like the people of Aldous Huxley's "Island". & besides, I'm probably guilty of this same thing, the crime of not seeing my fellow beings clearly.

Thank G@d there are so many ways to grow & change!

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